First Test Match

South Africa v Pakistan 2007-08

At Centurion, January 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 2007. South Africa won by seven wickets. Toss: Pakistan.

"If you had heard what I just heard you wouldn't be sitting in here, you'd be out there writing," Kepler Wessels said quietly to a journalist in the luncheon hall on the fourth day.

Wessels is immune to exaggeration. Even so, there was no stampede from the trough as his warning did the rounds among the steadily munching reporters. A while later they were forced to concede that Wessels, now a television commentator with unfiltered access to what the stump microphones record, was right.

Herschelle Gibbs had made what the International Cricket Council later decided - twice - were racially abusive remarks about a group of spectators who had been increasingly aggressive in their support of the Pakistan team. His comments were caught by the stump mikes and broadcast far and wide on television. All media hell broke loose after referee Chris Broad found Gibbs guilty of a Level 3 offence and banned him for two Test matches; he appealed, and lost.

But there was a twist left in this tale. Richie Benaud, the appeals commissioner, made it plain that he did not consider him a racist, a charge Gibbs - who is non-white - was keen to prevent sticking to him. Moreover, because the appeals process ground on until the eve of the Third Test, Gibbs's punishment was revised to cover that match plus a Twenty20 international and the first game in the one-day series.

There was also some cricket played at Centurion in mid-January. Over the first two days, Ntini ripped through all sections of Pakistan's batting to take five wickets and stunt the growth of their first innings. Yasir Hameed and Younis Khan stood the firmest in their stand of 133, and there was lusty hitting down the order by Naved-ul-Hasan and Shahid Nazir. Then Mohammad Asif tore into the South Africans, knocking over their top four with just 143 runs scored.

But by stumps on the second day, the South Africans were nudging themselves towards a first-innings lead courtesy of an anchoring partnership between Prince and Gibbs, which loomed to double-century proportions on the third day. Prince enhanced his growing reputation as a calm, maturing figure by reaching his century before Danish Kaneria had him stumped with what became the last ball before lunch. Gibbs also seemed headed for a hundred, but he was six short when Naved-ul-Hasan trapped him in front early in the second session. That was in the midst of a spiral of five wickets falling for 35 runs, three of them to the immaculate Kaneria. Asif deservedly claimed a five-wicket haul by dismissing Ntini to end the innings.

Pakistan's fightback kept South Africa's lead to 104, which the tourists had almost cleared by the close of the third day, with eight wickets in hand. But the slide started on the fourth morning, and by mid-afternoon Pakistan had subsided to 199 for seven. Between them, Pollock and Harris, the left-arm spinner, eventually removed seven men with disciplined bowling; had it not been for another pair of plucky innings by Naved and Nazir, aided by Kaneria, South Africa might have been set a target rather more modest than 199.

De Villiers and Smith became casualties on the fourth evening, and night-watchman Harris went early next morning. But that was as far as their losses went. Half-centuries from Amla and Kallis propped up an unbroken century stand, as they calmly but carefully took the home side to flutterless victory before tea.

Man of the Match: H. M. Amla. Attendance: 39,031.

© John Wisden & Co.